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Digital Transformation: Three Key Areas SMEs Should Focus On

There are three key areas in which technology equips businesses to take on future challenges: Employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and operational efficiency.

Employee productivity

Your employees are behind the success of your company's services and products. Arming your staff with the right devices and solutions empowers them to work from anywhere with the same access to colleagues, customers, and systems as they would have sitting in your office. 

Gather all solutions within a single environment and you facilitate collaboration, communication, and enterprise-wide knowledge sharing. You break down the silos responsible for errors, delays, and unnecessary costs. (Read more about these and more benefits in our series on unified communications.) 

Finally, in an era where there is a shortage of tech-savvy talent and employees rate feeling valued above the amount on their paycheck, providing the support your team needs to excel means happier workers and a lower risk of losing them to the competition.

In 2017, two-thirds of Malaysia's workers were employed by SMEs. Yet, in spite of the critical role they play in business and country, employees and their work are rarely factored into digital transformation strategies. This all but dooms a transformation to failure. 

Including employees in your digital strategy not only gets you the competitive benefits listed above, it significantly advances the success of the other two key components of digital transformation: customer satisfaction and operational agility.

Customer satisfaction

Have you ever walked away from a purchase because you were frustrated by the service? Maybe employees were rude, or the online shopping portal was difficult to navigate. 

The basic premise of a business is to make money by fulfilling a need. But customers have changed. It is no longer just about what they purchase and how much it costs, but how easy and pleasant you make the experience for them.

Customer experience is the emotional side of buying. It often starts way before the actual purchase occurs, continuing long after the transaction is complete.

Why does this matter? In a survey conducted by PwC, 73% of respondents admitted that a good experience positively influenced their purchasing decisions. In fact, customers who enjoyed their experience will pay 'up to 16% more for products and services.'

A popular example is the ongoing prevalence of upscale coffeehouses. Sure, it's still possible to buy a cup of coffee for a couple of ringgit. You can make yourself a decent cup at home for even less. Yet people flock to cafes where they have to pay five to ten times as much, shelling out not just for better coffee, but for the whole package. The friendly servers, the choices, the environment, the music. These, as much as the beverage itself, are what makes it an experience.

Traditionally, SMEs have excelled in customer service. That was easier when customer bases were small and SMEs were better equipped to offer personalised attention. As we have seen, technology now allows companies with a small number of employees to serve a huge number of customers, often in diverse locations, making it more difficult to retain service as that critical differentiator. 

Technology has made it possible to improve the customer experience even when transactions are conducted fully online. Automating customer processes or support gives customers 24/7 access and faster response times. Through big data and analytics, you can get to know your customers better than if you were to talk to them in person. Machine learning helps you predict what customers want, when they want it, and how they want to get it. Even better, this information can be shared throughout the company, so your entire team is working together to best serve your customers.

Group of young startupers having a meeting in a loft style meeting room

One advantage SMEs have over large companies is agility. Just as it's tougher to move a bulky object than a light one, making organisation-wide changes becomes harder the bigger and more spread out a company is.  

Operational efficiency

Futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler used the term 'future shock' to describe the inability to cope with the rapid pace of change. As Alvin Toffler predicted, in this century, those at the greatest disadvantage will be anyone unable to 'learn, unlearn and relearn.' The opposite of future shock, then, is the ability to adapt. 

Operational efficiency, the key ingredient for organisational agility, is the third component of digital transformation. Agility, the ingrained determination to change with – or ahead of – the times, is what allows you to continuously improve, adapting quickly to keep up with customer desires and expectations, as well to disruptions caused by new technologies, economic volatility, legislation, and more.

This is also where SMEs have an in-built advantage over larger companies. It's sheer rules of physics: just as it's tougher to move a bulky object than a light one, making organisation-wide changes becomes harder the bigger and more spread out a company is. 

Agility starts with the mindset of an organisation, from C-levels on down. Moving a small object stops being easy if the object is cemented down. Likewise, a company will not transform if key players are stuck in their ways and refuse to budge. 

How far your company has come on boosting employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and efficiency – and how to get to where you want to be – will be covered in our final two segments of this series.

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